Crappy Wheels and Cherry Cranks

Words Dave Tolnai
Date Jun 6, 2016

Weird things happen when you set a goal for yourself. For me, I start chipping away at the iceberg before moving along to something that seems a bit easier. And then, at the last minute, that plan gets derailed and I’m left pursuing the original goal with half-assed rigor because there’s nothing else to fall back on and there is not nearly enough time to do it justice. Which is pretty much the perfect excuse, if you ask me. “Oh…ya…here’s something that would be meaningful if I had enough time to really bite into it…you sure you don’t think it’s meaningful?…Ya…Ya…Me neither.”  So. Whatever. More crap.

Dear Uncle Dave,

For the first time in my life I have been forced to buy a stock bike off the shelf and every time I notice that wheels and suspension, especially wheels take a huge backseat to things like shiny derailleurs and nice cranks. Even chains are often down specced on some more entry level bikes in the 3500 range. I guess my question is why are bike companies investing heavily in the easier to replace stuff and cheaping out on the suspension wheels and brakes?’

The man with no sign-off

Dear Uncle Dave,

When I buy a steed like many people I make some changes, convert to 1×10, wider bar, shorter stem, go tubeless. Pretty standard stuff, but it makes me wonder, after watching friends of mine especially shop employees swap parts who put hundreds of dollars into new drivetrains and cockpits. What should you do with the OEM parts you just took off. Should you sell them for the pittance they are worth, or keep them and put them back on the bike when you wish to sell it?

The same man who still has no sign-off

Dear Inconsiderate Salutationist:

I really need to stop falling for this “ask similar questions at different times to convince Uncle Dave that there is some sort of trend so he’s more likely to answer” bullshit. But I’ve been duped again. Hope you’re happy, man who never learned how to sign-off an e-mail. On with the show.

It’s funny how many different levels there are to being a competent mechanic and how there is always somebody a step higher that will blow your mind. The average layperson is impressed when you can fix a flat on their ten-year-old beach cruiser. Seasoned cyclists generally revere anyone who can twiddle knobs on a suspension fork or bleed a brake without poisoning an animal. And then you get the true wizards who impress even the lifer shop mechanics. Guys who lay up carbon frames in their garage or spend hours debating the merits of specific lacing patterns. Unless you’re one of those guys, there is always more to learn, is what they keep telling us.

For me, there’s a moment where you move on from ‘shop victim’ to ‘semi-competent mechanic capable of not ruining things.’ That moment is when you build your first bike from the ground up.

I’m not saying this is the same for everybody. There’s probably oodles of people building bikes that don’t know what they’re doing and wonder why their crank arms keep falling off. But for me, this was the case. I had a long history of basic and not so basic repairs before I felt competent enough to take this on. There was something kind of frightening about figuring out the right sizes for everything, buying the exact parts that you wanted and that your budget could stand, and then putting it together into a contraption to which you would trust your life. There’s not much bullshit once you hit that point.

But once you do this once, it’s hard to go back. Once you ‘know what you’re doing,’ you would never save a few dollars by hiding a sub-par bottom bracket in your frame or by using non-branded (but perfectly adequate) steering components or by cladding your brand new bicycle in tires unfit for recycling or by using a fork with less adjustments than a light switch. You would never do any of these things.

So why can bike companies get away with this?

As far as I know, I don’t think I’ve ever met a real life Product Manager responsible for speccing bicycles. If I had to imagine one, he’d be a scrubby little desk jockey who hasn’t seen the sun in several months. He’d get really excited about interest rates and he’d post passive aggressive notes around the office. This is, I will admit, a bit unfair. I’m sure these guys have a really hard job to do and they love bicycles and they’re just trying to get a good product into our hands at a reasonable price point. But come on! The tires, man! What’s with the tires? If no tire company would dare sell those tires to actual consumers in something resembling a capitalist economy, where do you get the gall to put them on your bicycle model that will be sold to thousands of people? How do you live with the shame, reading the latest review of your baby where it’s a given that the tires got removed and thrown in the trash and it’s just expected now so nobody even cares? You’re a bad person.

And while we’re crapping on things, this is actually the main reason why I get so upset about new ‘standards.’ In the past, you would buy a nice frame, build it up with the best parts you could afford, and maybe steal a few things off of your old build to get you going. Over time you’d buy a new fork or a new set of cranks or build a nice wheelset. You’d end up with a really nice bike, perfect for your circumstances, built out of parts that could be handed down to your next build. But now, that’s all out the window. Now, you’re lucky if your handlebar still fits and you need to be an actuarial accountant to figure out which headset fits your new frame. We’re creating a world where parts have a limited lifespan before they’re incompatible with the latest standard and where building your own bicycle is harder and harder with each passing year. Because of this I think we’re more and more likely to resort to buying complete bicycles. Incredibly flawed, but complete bicycles.

Why is it so difficult to find a bike ‘off the rack’ that is ready to ride with no changes? Why do automobiles have many different options but we’re stuck with 3x drivetrains, narrow bars, deathwish tires and tubes from a discarded children’s bicycle? How is it possible in this world of just-in-time delivery logistics that nobody has come up with a way to offer up even some token attempts at “customization”?*

Why can’t we order up a bike like we’re buying a Dell computer? Pick a frame, pick your components from a limited selection of options, and a few days later your borderline custom bicycle shows up at your doorstep/shop of your choice (depending on how you feel about direct sale bicycles)? At the very least offer me a fork option or two, a choice of tires, a couple of different drivetrain options and maybe some bar and stem width/length choices. How is this not possible? If I’m a ‘direct sales’ company looking to make a splash this would be how I would do it.

Somewhere, a product manager just threw a keyboard across a room.

But maybe they’ve already thought of all this and come to the conclusion that none of this actually matters? The only people that really care about this are the lost cause dudes that will spend their money on the latest thing even if it makes no sense. Why put a bunch of time and energy into satisfying people who are probably super content to strip perfectly usable parts off of their new bicycle or spend a month stressing out about their perfect build? I’m shopping for a new bike for my girlfriend. I’m super stressed out about rim width and tire size and the number of chainrings and she doesn’t care at all, as long as it doesn’t weigh a tonne, is fun to ride down a trail and isn’t an ugly colour. Maybe anybody who really cares about this stuff is willing to fork out all sorts of cash for parts swaps or build it from scratch and nobody else gives a shit? The market is never wrong, right? If there was money in customization, somebody would have done it by now. Up-speccing rear derailleurs and hiding sub-par components wherever possible seems to be the formula for success.

Uncle Dave

* Ya, Trek offers a pretty limited host of top dollar custom options via their Project One program. Santa Cruz has played around with different fork and shock options.  Commencal has an À la carte programme. Anybody else?

For your persistence, Inconsiderate Salutationist, you win a Renthal 1XR Ring in the bolt circle of your choice. How’s that for an up-spec?

The Renthal 1XR chainring tooth profiling ensures the highest level of chain retention, in all conditions. Alternating 1.8/3.5mm width teeth interlock with the chain for ultimate security, with no loss of efficiency. The reduced frontal profile of the 3.5mm wide teeth increases mud clearance for the inner chain plates and extends longevity. Durability of the hard wearing 7075 T6 aluminium construction is maximised with a hard anodised surface treatment and mud evacuation grooves in the tooth bed.

The Renthal 1XR chainring tooth profiling ensures the highest level of chain retention, in all conditions. Alternating 1.8/3.5mm width teeth interlock with the chain for ultimate security, with no loss of efficiency. The reduced frontal profile of the 3.5mm wide teeth increases mud clearance for the inner chain plates and extends longevity. Durability of the hard wearing 7075 T6 aluminium construction is maximised with a hard anodised surface treatment and mud evacuation grooves in the tooth bed.

Could it be possible that Uncle Dave actually posted a riding shot this week on Instagram? You really need to have a look @davetolnai to make sure. Twitter? @ReallyUncleDave is just more left wing ramblings.

And keep those questions flowing to

What was the worst crap spec’ed on a bike you bought?

Trending on NSMB


nick bitar  - June 7, 2016, 9:30 p.m.

I was looking at the new hardtail from Guerrilla Gravity in Denver, Colorado earlier this morning (when the boss wasn't looking at me!) and they offer a bunch custom options on Star Spangled Banner, all American made Aluminum and cro-mo frames.


ashroadadam1 .  - June 7, 2016, 1:14 p.m.

I bought a Tallboy from Colorado Cyclist about 5 years ago. Chose every single part on the bike. Maybe the real reason there aren't as many companies doing this is that consumers are generally lazy and easily led. There simply aren't enough finicky detail-oriented knowledgeable riders for the major manufacturers to bother with a build-to-spec system. They can just keep churning out flashy decalled bikes with an xtr derailler upgrade with performance level shocks, non-TR tires, and ass-reaming saddles, and focus on how many thousand units they can ship out each season….way more efficient that customizing the supply chain, setting up shipping, and so forth. Simply put, easier to send generic bikes to shops to distribute, than deal with that unsanitary and inefficient customer relationship in the flesh.


Dirk  - June 7, 2016, 12:47 p.m.

Okay. Perhaps I should have thrown a "no major bike maker in the North American market is offering customization" comment in there somewhere. Good to hear that somebody is doing it, but it is pretty much not applicable for the vast majority of North American buyers.


Cooper Quinn  - June 7, 2016, 12:16 p.m.

Rose Bikes.


muldman  - June 7, 2016, 12:13 p.m.

Fezzari lets you swap out absolutely anything on the bike (start with one of the 2 or 3 off-the-shelf specs, then modify away.) I think they can do this as every bike is built as the order arrives. No idea if it would scale to a larger operation…


bostock  - June 7, 2016, 11:43 a.m.

buy my wheel.


Vernon Anderson  - June 7, 2016, 10:23 a.m.

Ibis website is pretty neat for building your dream bike. Even if you only ride it in your dreams!


Kirk  - June 7, 2016, 10:16 a.m.

So much truth, it hurts. Love these articles!


Geof Harries  - June 7, 2016, 9:48 a.m.

It's interesting to note that quite a few mid-range (that is, not just the high-end builders) fat bike manufacturers offer this type of "semi-custom" purchase option. I presume this is because it's a smaller market and they are smaller companies.


peterk  - June 7, 2016, 7:19 a.m.

Why are there low end rims and straight spokes on any bike over $2000? Add a hundred bucks and you have top of the line aluminum rims and butted spokes. Stronger wheels, less rotating mass, and the best dollar value of any upgrade…


Luix  - June 7, 2016, 5:07 a.m.

Orbea does some customization too.


Michał Lalik  - June 7, 2016, 4:17 a.m.

Rose - definitely! Also Orange gives a lot of component choice.


Daniel Lees  - June 7, 2016, 12:02 a.m.

Rose bikes based on Germany (where else?) Allow you to spec a bike from the ground up in exactly the way you say… Their Uncle Jimbo enduro bike looks particularly Shore friendly.


ZigaK  - June 7, 2016, 11:14 a.m.

They are much better than they were few years back.
I just spent too much time on the site configuring stuff. It would be nice option to downgrade equipment (not possible atm). Top frame and low spec gear to be bettered at a later date.


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